Oct. 1 2010 12:00 AM

When the vampire next door says ‘Let Me In,’ do it

(THURSDAY, Sept. 30) — Abby is one of those friends your
parents warned you about. Sure, she looks nice enough — but there’s something,
well, strange about her. She’s the new girl in town who doesn’t like to talk
about herself. She says she’s 12, “more or less.” She walks
around barefoot in the middle of winter, claiming, “I don’t really get cold.”

She’s also hungry all the time, but not for candy or burgers
or anything else that the typical junior high kids eat. She prefers fresh

But to Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Abby’s lonely,
introspective, often-bullied neighbor, Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz) is undeniably
fascinating. Even when she tries to keep him at arm’s length — “Just so you
know, I can’t be your friend,” she warns him — Owen still seeks her out.
They’re apparently the only two kids in a dismal-looking apartment complex, and
it’s 1983, the heyday of Izod sweaters, Culture Club and Ms. Pac-Man; who’d
want to face that era alone?

“Let Me In” transfers the Swedish shocker “Let the Right One
In” to American soil, specifically the New Mexico town of Los Alamos,
birthplace of the nuclear program. Yet the real dangers in director Matt
Reeves’ assured, unsettling tale come not from science, but from the
supernatural: Abby is a vampire, and not one of those sophisticated, elegant
creatures of the night we’ve come to know from the “Twilight” series. She’s
been cursed with a voracious appetite, and she’s not particularly particular
when it’s snacktime. Even after Owen learns her secret, he’s surprisingly OK
with it. Obviously, misery loves company.

Thriller fans might scurry away from the prospect of a
“Right One” reworking the way bloodsuckers hide from sunlight. But “Let Me In”
does a remarkably fine job of establishing the same atmosphere of eerie
isolation and longing that permeated director Tomas Alfredson’s earlier film.
It’s also unexpectedly elegant, considering the jiggly hand-held videography of
Reeves’ love-it-or-hate-it “Cloverfield.” The lighting and cinematography are
stunning, from the weird, copper-colored glow on the snow in the apartment
courtyard, to a breathtaking shot of Abby’s guardian (Richard Jenkins, as a
sort of Renfield to her Countess Dracula) trying to make a hasty getaway after
a carjacking goes awry.

Moretz, the scene-stealer from “(500) Days of Summer” and
“Kick-Ass,” and Smit-McPhee (who played Viggo Mortensen’s son in “The Road”)
are ideally cast. Their beautifully understated performances provide the story
with real poignancy and resonance; even if all the horror elements were
removed, this would still be an insightful picture of adolescent anguish. When
Owen makes a mistake that almost kills Abby, the moment is both horrifying and
heartwrenching, not exactly what you might expect from a movie with an
impressive body count.

Reeves co-wrote the screenplay with John Ajvide Lindquist,
author of the novel that inspired “Let the Right One In.” That combination
results in a film that’s largely faithful to the source material while
maintaining its own flavor and humor. Rare is the remake that can pull off that

An even bigger surprise: The vicious attacks on Owen by his
classmates are more frightening and startling than Abby’s ambushing of her
prey. Living next door to a vampire is an unsettling prospect, but having to
face the terrors of junior high? That’ll really make your blood run cold.

Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/jamessanford